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Chinese traditions

  1. #9
    arleneli is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2005


    I married to a very traditional chinese family. I grew up in australia, and didnt know anything about the tradition. My in laws even speaks their own chinese language (not mandarin/cantonese).

    My MIL told me everything about the tradition as soon as I announced my pregnancy. 1 month party is not a must for us but it is a nice family gathering. My husband has a very big about 30-40 peoples (cousins and their family). I like the gathering actually, i learned a lot about taking care of the baby, schools, etc. His cousins shared a lot.

    My MIL suggested that I took the baby to her house when i am working so that she can keep an eye on the maid and also help her in case any problem arise. Actually, lucky she was there when my baby got high fever. She took her to the doctor right away. She gave up her mahjong time just to see everything is ok.

    about clothes... she bought a lot... not because a must but because she loves our baby and loves shopping :)

    You can take shower as soon as you feel ready if you have natural delivery, but taking bath with warm water is better, in case you catch a cold. After giving birth your body will be weak. So avoiding cold stuff is reasonable.

    Dont worry a lot. Talk to your hubby about the things you want to do and dont want to do. Then discuss with your MIL.

    Communication is everything.

    About chinese name, my FIL suggested some names. Then my hubby and I got to choose one. But some chinese family really have their own list of chinese names, and all of children in that generation need to use that.

    Try to compromise with her. She has to accept your tradition and you need to accept hers. Otherwise, you hubby suffers.

  2. #10
    Biscuit is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2007

    Thanks to everyone for your replies!

    In answer to a few questions:

    • Yes this is the first grandchild for both our families (a very exciting time)
    • Yes, my husband is the ‘first’ and only son in his family (so an extra special time for his parents!)
    • We live in Australia (and so do both our families)
    • Baby due in 1 month!

    ELT, I agree. I think my MIL is very excited about the impending arrival and is using ‘tradition’ as a way of becoming involved. I do respect my MIL and agree that it’s important that (as half Chinese) our child be brought up knowing about Chinese culture etc.

    In saying that though…sometimes it’s very difficult. She forgets that I’m not Chinese and therefore don’t feel the need to follow some traditions. It’s not out of disrespect though. And sometimes I think she forgets to respect my culture and the way I’ve been raised.

    So…this is what I’ve done and am going to do…

    • MIL can buy as many clothes/linen as she wants! But it hasn’t & won’t stop me from buying things also. I’m excited too, it’s my first baby!

    • Showering after birth. For me, this is a must! I’m not Chinese…so I hope she understands that I won’t be following this tradition.

    • 40 days of confinement. Again, not for me! (Not the plan anyway). I’ve already invited my Mum (who is a nurse and trained midwife) to stay for a couple of weeks to help out. But I plan on going for walks and leaving the house every now and then to keep my sanity! I’m also looking forward to spending quality ‘alone’ time with my baby and wouldn’t expect my Mum to stay for an entire month!

    I do not feel ‘close’ to my MIL…so wouldn't feel uncomfortable with her caring for me for staying for a month. I’ve mentioned to my husband that we could invite her to stay for a couple of weeks after we are settled-in.

    • Warm drinks only. Again, not for me! This sounds like a tradition that Chinese women follow. I’m keen to follow traditions for our child sake…not for me!

    • One month dinner. Sounds very important to the Chinese culture…so YES to this one! But I may ask MIL to hold off setting any dates until after the baby is born…just to see how I am coping and if having it after 30 days is ‘realistic’! (I may end up having an emergency C-section etc). Maybe after 2 months? I’ll request it’s just close family (because we have already hosted a baby shower recently…). Plus, we plan on Christening our baby Catholic after about 4months (which involves a small party). (She probably won’t be happy about that!). Oh well...that's the part where she has to respect my culture/religion.

    • MIL selecting Chinese name. My husband and I have decided to let this one go. She can choose the name, but we choose the English Christian name. Just out of interest – does the Chinese name usually go on the birth certificate? I know my husbands is…but his sister doesn’t have it on hers (it’s more symbolic thing).

    • MIL to care for baby while I go back to work. Not going to happen! I’m giving birth to this child and I plan on raising it too! That’s how it works in my culture. Plus…if she lived in the same City as me…I may go insane! (she means well….but is very controlling).

    • Language. The child will be raised in Australia, so first and foremost I think it should learn English. (Of course learning Cantonese is important too). I think we will cross this bridge when we come to it! The baby won’t start speaking till after 12 months anyway!

    So…that’s the plan! Are there any other ‘traditions’ I should be aware of?

  3. #11
    capital is offline Banned
    Join Date
    May 2004

    I am canadian and live in canada with my chinese husband. Mother in law lives in Hong kong. Having an ocean between us is wonderful because I can take or leave what she says. My mother-in-law warned me against sharp objects such as knives and scissors. She didn't send lots of clothes and linens, but was very generous to us with money that paid for pretty much all baby related items. She did occasionally send pink clothes for our boys, which I still don't quite understand?

    We picked the english names and let my husbands family pick the chinese names. I didn't really care because for all intents and purposes it is really just like having more middle names. My mother and father in law couldn't agree on any so they each picked their own, and for one child we chose father in laws name, and the other chose mother is laws name. Each child has a english first and middle name and the 2 chinese names. My husband and his family use the chinese names and I , my family and the rest of the world use the english name. All the names are on the birth certificate.

    We have tried to raise the children biligually, but it is not working out that well. My husband is the only one who speaks cantonese to them, and I am the primary caregiver and everyone else in canada they come into contact with speak english so of course they use much more english than chinese, My 3 year old can speak chinese, but chooses english over it ifhe can. His vocabulary is much better in english and he can express himself easier. My husband gets really upset and mad at him if hewon't talk chinese to him. I thought if we each spoke a different language it would work out well, but it hasn't at all. I hear so much about people who grew up speaking only chinese at home untill school, then spoke english and as adults don't know chinese anymore, we are even further behind that so we wonder why we are even bothering sometimes. I'm not sure what to do about it

  4. #12
    Biscuit is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2007

    Capital - I can predict that the language thing will become an issue further down the track for us.

    We have Chinese friends (in Australia) who have chosen to speak only Cantonese to their children at home. It's now getting to the point where the kids are ready for school and don't speak any english. But from what I hear...they pick it up very fast.

    That obviously wont work for us! I don't speak Cantonese. I've been with my husband for seven years...and still only know a few words! I have tried to learn...but it's not that easy!

    My husband is keen for us to raise bilingual children. But similar to your situation...i'll be the primary I don't see it working out.

    My husband has suggested that he will only speak Cantonese to our children....but he hasn't considered how that will affect me! I'll never know what he is saying to our kids?!? And if the child does start speaking back in Cantonese, then I will feel totally excluded!

    It's already hard enough for me when we visit his family. We will sit around a dinner table and they don't make any effort to talk to me in English. I will start a conversation in english...then they will all take over and end the discussion in Cantonese (again...making me feel totally excluded). Up until now...i've been able to cope with it. I married a Chinese man and I can't expect his whole family to change for me.

    It's a challenge! And it will get harder bringing children into the mix. I just have to deal with things as best as I can!

    MIL can be a struggle though. She's already had a cry to my husband on the phone and said "my grandchildren wont know Chinese nursery ryhmes". She says it's her duty to instill Chinese culture into the baby's life! She complained that my hubby has become "too Australian" and forgotten his roots. But he was raised in Australia...which was a decision that she and FIL it's a bit unfair to blame him for that.

    Anyways...That's my whinge!

  5. #13
    JoTs is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Hong Kong

    I am English and my husband is chinese from Hong Kong, but he went to school in the UK when he was 13 and we have only just returned to live here, so he has been away for a v long time!

    We had our son (now 20 months) in the UK, so I didn't have to really follow much of my MIL advice, just listen on the phone! Initially she wanted to come to stay with us when the baby was born, but I knew that would drive me crazy - she came when he was 6 weeks old. I was kind of dreading it as she can be v controlling, but I think my husband briefed her well beforehand and so she was actually a lot of help. Cooking all our meals, cleaning etc.

    Now that we are here, I find it quite hard to take her "advice" - but I am getting used to it. Find it easier just to agree and then do my own thing when she leaves! At first I would get v annoyed when she commented on my home/cleaning etc - but now I have realised that she just wants to be helpful - I may see at as she thinks I do not care for her son and grandson well - but actually I don't think she sees it like that...

    Anyway, if we end up having No 2 in HK, it may be difficult, but we are both working at getting used to each other - often she will tell me how things would be done in a traditional chinese culture, but give me the choice whether to follow.

    Regarding bilingualism - my husband has only ever spoken Cantonese to my son, and I only speak English. He is doing really well and understands both languages perfectly - his speech was a little behind, but now he uses both languages, adding new words everyday.

    I would really encourage you to do this, even though sometimes it is hard - but I usually know what my husband is saying, I have picked up more Cantonese since my son was born than all those evening classes in the UK! I too find it difficult when I go for dinner with my in-laws, not understanding the conversation - but have got used to it over the years!

    Also, we gave him a chinese middle name, my husband chose it, but did ask his parents opinion - but the final decision was with us.

    I really want my son to feel that he fits into both cultures, instead of neither - so he "double" and not "half" - if you know what I mean...?

    Anyway, have rambled on - it is lovely to read this post though, as in the UK no-one understood my situation, but here I am meeting more and more people who understand how hard it is dealing with a MIL from a different culture!


  6. #14
    sophwillsmum is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Bel air, Cyberport.

    I just wanted to say that I also find this post very interesting. Both myself and my husband are Australian, but it is ceratinly an eye opener to see how other cultures regard pregnancy and child birth. On the original discussion about having a baby party one month after the birth, why not get your MIL to organise and throw it if she wants it so badly? Then you could simply be 'honoured guests' at her party. Just a thought, but it could take a lot of the pressure off right when you DON"T need it.

  7. #15
    capital is offline Banned
    Join Date
    May 2004


    I too know very little chinese, but it does not bother me at all when my husband speaks cantonese to our son. You will be suprised at how much you will pick up. If they are talking about something and I don't understand I just ask either my son or husband. My preference would be for the children to be bilingual, but I just don't know if it will work with my husband being the only one to speak it to them. We have the option to send them to a mandarin immersion program for school here, at least then they will read and write, but I won't be able to help them with home work, so I don't know what to do.

    The hardest part so far about raising our children has been the difference in how we approach discipline. i take a much more modern approach whereas my husband prefers to yell and thinks spanking is acceptable. It is a real area of contention for me and is still not resolved. he will say things like, I am chinese and this is how we do it, it is traditional, which of course is a load of crap (I was spanked as a child too, which I consider a lack of knowledge, not a tradition). There are pleanty of old traditions which he does not follow, but for some reason this is his rationale. The worst part is he prides himself on a knoowledge of up to date, science based medical knowledge (we are in the medical flields), but when it comes to discipline that all goes out the window. Does anyone else have problems with differeing opinions in discipline? The biggest problem is I KNOW I am right and thinks he is right.

    About the name thing, our childrens chinese names have the same generational name. One child is Chi Hang and the second is Chi Ching, my husband and mother in law call them hang hang and ching ching

  8. #16
    barbwong_130 is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Hong Kong

    When I’d been married for a few years I took part in a research project at Hong Kong University. It was looking into how Anglo-Chinese marriages worked and what sort of cultural issues they had. Both my husband and I were interviewed separately and then together. The main findings of the research were that the marriages were good and that couples went into them with a will to accept the other culture. The biggest problem, however, was raising children. Both partners expected to raise their children the way they had been raised. And unless there was a lot of open communication problems could occur.

    I now think that one of the advantages of marrying outside my culture is that it has allowed me to question my husband’s culture’s way of doing things (this came very easily to me) but also my culture’s way of doing things (which invloved more thought). In the end we have taken things from both cultures and made our own family culture from the two.

    One of the ideas I embraced when I moved to Hong Kong was “the more celebrations the better”. Here people celebrate all the traditional Chinese festivals and also the British ones left over from colonial times. (In fact before the handover we celebrated the Queen’s birthday – this is not even a holiday in England!)

    I found that one of the best ways to become accepted in my new family was to participate in the celebrations and to invite them to celebrate in my culture’s celebrations. My nephews and nieces love to join my Boxing Day party and receive a gift from Father Christmas. They also love the treasure hunt for eggs we have each Easter Sunday.

    We had a one month celebration for all four of our children. The first one we hired a junk and a caterer and sailed around the harbour for the evening. It was a lovely party as my brother had arrived just in time for it and we invited lots of my husband’s friends who hadn’t been able to attend either of our weddings (one traditional English one in England and a traditional Chinese banquet for family only – but still over 50 people).

    For the second baby (the first grandson) we had a traditional Chinese banquet but again only family. I don’t know about in Australia but this is really easy to organize in Hong Kong – you just pick a restaurant and they do the rest. Another banquet for the third child and another junk trip (to see the pink dolphins) for the fourth – but just my husband’s immediate family for these. It may sound hard going to a party with a month old baby but it isn’t really – even with a C-section I was feeling OK after four weeks.

    Giving red packets with a token amount of money in it for gifts is a very big tradition here. If you visit someone at Chinese New Year and take them a gift you will receive a red packet in return. It is basically like saying thank you and much easier than writing hundreds of thank you notes. I once took an expat work colleague to dinner at my parents-in-law during the 15 days of Chinese New Year. He was very touched that he received a red packet from my mother-in-law. I’ve found these gestures mean a lot more than words, especially when there is a language barrier and words mean nothing.

    My husband choose three names for our son and asked his father which one he liked best. This way my husband got to have a special name that he liked (he is very well educated and I think wanted to show this off in the names of his children) but my father-in-law also got the privilege of being the person to choose the name. All my children have the same generation name. I like this idea as it is just another way of tying them together as a family.

    The one thought that keeps us going with speaking two languages in our home is that the gift of half a language is better than no language. It is very common for children to have periods where they refuse to speak their second language – sometimes lasting for years. But if you keep speaking to them in the second language they are getting the gift of understanding it even if they reply in the first language.

    My third child is quite shy and really doesn’t like speaking in English much. He hardly ever speaks in Chinese. My husband keeps on speaking to him in Cantonese and I know he understands even though he will reply in English. I was really surprised when we visited my husband’s relatives in China because he was talking Cantonese with them. But, of course, none of them spoke English!

    My brother is also married to Chinese girl (she used to be my husband’s secretary and I introduced them when he came to visit me). She finds that being the only source of Cantonese for her daughter very hard. My niece’s Chinese skills greatly improve when she visits with her mother’s friends or my family go to visit.

    I used to hate going to my parents-in-law every Sunday evening. I hated being left out of the conversation and not being able to follow what was happening on the TV. It used to seem like three hours from hell. But once I had babies this all changed. I now look forward to going and not having to be the sole entertainer for my children. And once my sister-in-laws started having children too so there were cousins for my children to play with it became even better.

    I would hate my children to miss out on English nursery rhymes and so I can easily understand that your mother-in-law wants your children to know of Chinese nursery rhymes. Children, however, don’t start appreciating nursery rhymes until they are about two years old – so there is lots of time for that. And by the age of two you will probably love the opportunity to leave your child and escape away to do something for yourself. I always find it wonderful when my youngest goes on a sleepover at her cousin’s home.

    I found learning Cantonese at lessons was really hard work. I could never get the tones right. It was much easier learning with my children. When talking to babies and children the words are often repeated and somehow this makes it easier to learn. I find asking my children the details of the conversations more rewarding than asking my husband. They will talk for half an hour and when I ask he’ll say “Oh, we’re talking about politics”. Absolutely no details and guess what, I’d already deduced the general theme.

    With things like the tradition confinement period and its rules I took a mixed view. For example if I wanted to go out I’d say, “I’m English and so allowed” but if I didn’t really feel like going out I’d say, “Sorry my husband prefers me to stay in for the first few weeks.” Of course I didn’t flaunt the fact I was going out enjoying myself in front of my mother-in-law and if she asked I’d say I was taking the baby to the doctor or clinic. In Hong Kong it is acceptable to go out if it is for the baby’s sake. Friends have told me that the confinement is much stricter in Taiwan. One friend wasn’t even allowed to use the computer for the first month. This seems worse than not washing hair!

    My mother-in-law took pride in cooking me lots of soups for my confinement period. Some I liked and some I didn’t. It wasn’t so much the soups but the quantity that outfaced me. Fortunately I discovered that I wasn’t meant to eat all the ginger vinegar soup myself but give it away. It became a bit of a game with me to see how much I could give away to different places. I do believe that there is a lot of wisdom in the special confinement foods. A doctor friend of mine told me that the ginger vinegar is very high in iron and calcium – the two minerals that new mothers are most likely lack.

    The hardest soup I’ve been given was carrot and sugar cane soup when my daughter had chicken pox at nine months old. Because I was still breastfeeding her I was expected to drink it too. It is really sweet and again one bowl is OK but three is far too much.

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